By Carolyn Malcoun , November 5, 2010 - 12:34pm
If I had to choose the one kitchen appliance I couldn’t live without, it would definitely be my slow cooker. I turn to it on the busiest days to prepare a healthy meal when I don’t have the time to—I can fill it in the morning with some staples like beans, broth, whole grains and whatever vegetables I have on hand, and arrive home to a hearty meal that’s ready to eat.
Related: Easy Slow-Cooker Soups and Stews 
Plus it saves me money because it makes inexpensive cuts of meat meltingly tender. I save up to $78 a year if I replace 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast ($4.99) with 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs ($3.49) once a week for a year.
Related: 6 Ways to Save $2,997 a Year on Food 
While slow cookers may be known best for flawlessly turning out rich stews and hearty soups, they cook other types of dishes quite well—everything from breakfast to dessert. Here are some of my favorite untraditional slow cooker recipes.
Related: 20+ no-fuss slow-cooker recipes 
Slow Cooker Recipes to Help You Shed Pounds 
Apple Confit 
Dessert from a slow cooker? Heck, yeah! This is like applesauce but better—you cook it down until the apples are tender but not falling apart. It’s one of the best entertaining desserts out there because it takes little of your time and barely any of your attention. Just top it with low-fat vanilla ice cream and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts. Or have it for breakfast with low-fat yogurt and granola or muesli for breakfast.
Related: The best and worst apples for cooking and eating 
Barbecue Pulled Chicken 
This fanciful reinterpretation of pulled pork uses chicken and lots of tomato sauce. Serve on crusty whole-grain rolls with sliced jalapenos, sliced red onions and some sour cream.
Related: More Delicious Chicken Recipes for Your Slow Cooker 
Overnight Oatmeal 
Here is an easy way to serve a crowd a hearty breakfast before facing the elements for a day of winter sports. You can assemble it in the slow cooker in the evening and wake up to a bowl of hot, nourishing oatmeal. The slow cooker eliminates the need for constant stirring and ensures an exceptionally creamy consistency. It is important to use steel-cut oats; old-fashioned oats become too soft during slow-cooking.
Related: More Hearty Whole-Grain Breakfast Recipes 
Barley Risotto with Fennel 
Here is a convenient alternative to a traditional stovetop risotto. The gentle, uniform heat of a slow cooker allows you to cook a creamy risotto without the usual frequent stirring. This one uses healthy, fiber-rich whole grains—either barley or brown rice—seasoned with Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and oil-cured olives.
Related: Mushroom & Wild Rice Frittata and More Recipes for Rice 
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve cooked in your slow cooker? Tell us what you think below.